Etta James

Rocks the House

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Though the studio albums Etta James made for Chess in the 1960s usually had the blues singer surrounded by lush production and string-heavy arrangements, this live date finds her performing with only a rhythm section, organist, guitarist, and tenor saxophonist. The singer seems to respond to both the stripped-down setting and the enthusiastic audience with noticeable abandon. In fact, James the classy balladeer, a role she sometimes plays on her studio albums, is nowhere to be found on this blazing set. The only time the band slows down is on the tearjerker story-song "All I Could Do Is Cry" (though what the tune lacks in tempo it makes up for in emotional intensity).

The rest of the set is straight-edged blues and R&B, including covers of some hits of the day, like "Money (That's What I Want)" and Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do" (on which James does a growling, harmonica-imitating vocal solo) steps up the blues quotient, as does the band's finale of Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You," with James' gospel-drenched pipes wailing all the while. Etta James Rocks the House indeed.

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